Obama reflects on legacy of Labor Day holiday

Ahead of the Labor Day holiday, President Obama praised the work of unions in a video out Saturday, reflecting on their legacy and encouraging Americans to do the same.

“For generations, every time the economy changed, hardworking Americans marched and organized and joined unions to demand not simply a bigger paycheck for themselves, but better conditions and more security for the folks working next to them, too,” the president said in his weekly address. “Their efforts are why we can enjoy things like the 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, and a minimum wage. Their efforts are why we can depend on health insurance, Social Security, Medicare and retirement plans.”

“All of that progress,” he added, “is stamped with the union label.”

The president also touted his administration’s work over the last seven and a half years to better labor conditions, ticking off his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, his call to raise the minimum wage across states and cities and the reduction of the nation’s unemployment rate.

“We’ve made good progress,” Mr. Obama said. “For a few years after the recession, the top 1 percent did capture almost all income gains. But that share has been cut by almost half.”

The president warned, however, that there was still more work left ahead.

“I know we’re in the heat of a more raucous political season than usual,” he acknowledged. “But we can’t get so distracted by the latest bluster that we lose sight of the policies that will actually help working families get ahead. Because the truth is, that’s what’s caused some of the frustration that’s roiling our politics right now -- too many working folks still feel left behind by an economy that’s constantly changing.”

Mr. Obama prescribed a plan of action for Americans, urging them to exercise “our rights to speak up in the workplace, to join a union and, above all, to vote.”

“If we’re going to restore the sense that hard work is rewarded with a fair shot to get ahead, we’re going to have to follow the lead of all those who came before us,” the president said. “That means standing up not just for ourselves, but for the father clocking into the plant, the sales clerk working long and unpredictable hours or the mother riding the bus to work across town, even on Labor Day -- folks who work as hard as we do.”

In their own address, Republicans also talked about the state of the economy, focusing specifically on the plight of those living in poverty.

In a video released Saturday, Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, seemed to blame the federal government for failing to adequately address poverty rates. 

“The problem is the many federal programs that are supposed to help people in need are leaving far too many people in poverty,” Byrne said. “There is a better way.”

The Alabama Republican proposed the cutting down of those federal programs and a reliance instead on private nonprofit groups like Feeding the Gulf Coast, whose headquarters Byrne spoke from.

“We need to combine the present jumble of programs into just a few that can meet people’s needs,” Byrne said. “Some of the best work with the poor that I have seen has been by private nonprofit organizations.”

“It’s clear to me that one thing government sure can’t do is love someone — only another person can do that,” he went on. “But the government can learn from these groups what really works and make sure what the government does actually supports their efforts.”

He proposed a five-pronged approach for programs that are funded by the government: rewarding work, tailoring benefits to people’s needs, improving education and job training opportunities, helping people plan and save for the future and demanding results.

“It’s time for a better way,” Byrne said. “A better way for poor children. A better way for struggling adults. And, a better way for America.”

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